Copenhagen is a thoroughly relaxed city: all that water seems to lend its inhabitants an enviable air of serenity. Even its swarms of cyclists eschew Lycra and razor-thin wheels in favour of anoraks and sturdy frames, content to pootle, not hurtle.
The city’s easy-paced way of life is evident in its much praised restaurants too: nobody was ever turned away from Noma or Geranium for wearing jeans. Dining at either, though, is still something to which one needs to dedicate several hours.
Now there is a new breed of restaurant in the Danish capital, for those with a taste for New Nordic cooking, but happy to sample it in a bistro setting. Take Uformel, the laid-back little sister of Copenhagen’s top-notch Formel B – the ambience is cosy (hyggelig in Danish), the waiters knowledgeable and friendly and the food superb.
Standout dishes on my visit included scallops with grilled cucumber and fragrant sweet cicely – a frozen powder of buttermilk adding a distinctly Nordic resonance – and steak tartare seasoned with black-pepper mayonnaise, then draped in a web of thin slices of slow-cooked beefsteak tomato.
There was also a fine piece of pink-cooked lamb with an intense little lamb ragout, scented with lemon and thyme, and a deeply indulgent dessert with more buttermilk (as a sorbet) plus salted caramel, blackcurrants and a scattering of oatmeal crumble.
Kødbyens Fiskebar (picture) – fish bar – is a few years older than Uformel, but has the same sense of unstuffiness and equally accomplished cooking. It is satirically sited in the city’s old meatpacking district: a butcher’s block sits by the entrance and the toilets are in an old cold room where carcasses once hung. The eponymous bar takes centre stage, but there are plenty of tables too, and a bright cylindrical fish tank casts an aquatic glow.
Squid with carrot – not a phrase that would normally make a gourmet go weak at the knees – was sensational. The squid was tender and flavoursome, its tentacles lightly charred, offset by carrots in several forms – new and spindly, pickled, puréed – and a light, foamy sauce made with wheat beer and hops.
White asparagus arrived with several manifestations of parsley, onion and buttermilk sauce (can you spot a trend here?); then a magnificent tranche of hake with tiny, sweet, earthy boiled potatoes swimming in a jade-green herb sauce.
For a bonhomous food lover like the Gannet, the idea of eating first-rate fare in a setting that is chilled out, not chilly, is the Holy Grail of gastronomy: at both Uformel and Fiskebar, the mood in the dining room may be cheerful, but the kitchens are very serious indeed.